If you’re a fan of acts like Trace Adkins, Luke Bryan & Dustin Lynch, chances are you’ve got a soft-spot for the late-noughties wave of Country Pop that helped bring Country as a whole into the limelight as a genre to be beloved rather than ridiculed, gaining a boost in popularity thanks to its crossover nature with the Indie Folk scene that started getting big around that time. This era of Country Pop maintained much of the wholesome storytelling & fully-analog instrumentation of their more traditional counterparts, feeling grounded in the roots of the genre’s more laidback history, but groups like Florida Georgia Line changed all of this when they transitioned the industry towards a much more Pop-ified sound – On Magnolia, Randy Houser seems intent on bringing much of this light back to the scene, producing somewhat of a mixture of both worlds with likewise mixed results, though the effectiveness of such a malleable sound may be lost on modern audiences.
On first listen, Randy Houser’s music has an exceptionally old-school sound, resonating with the Garth Brooks & even George Strait narratives of old; His music talks about small-town troubles, simple living & a desire to uphold the inherent honour of traditional romanticism – Just look at songs like “What Whiskey Does” where he talks about unwinding at the local saloon with a nice glass of whiskey to ease his troubles or “New Buzz” where he likens the marvelous effects of his new love interest’s charms to that of a comforting buzz that makes all his worries recede into nothingness, completely content with existing in this relaxed state of being so long as he’s got someone to share the world with; While many of these thoughts are reflected in modern Country Pop, there’s an earnestness at hand you just don’t find nowadays, combatting the personality traits you’d find on the radio whilst appealing to our more romantic tendencies.
At the same time, what makes Magnolia so engaging is the absolutely fantastic songwriting at play, Randy Houser placing a heavy focus on analog instrumentation, full-bodied production values & an incredibly warm sonic tone that puts the listener at ease, evoking the homely sounds of yesteryear – On songs like “Our Hearts” you’re treated to a slightly gospel-like sound, the radiant organs & bubbly Country timbre reminding you of townsfolk & ‘simple’ sorts of people rather than trying to impress you with wild vocal melodies & electronic samples that align with a more Alternative R&B-style sound, whilst others like “Nothin’ On You” deliver much of that driving Honky Tonk flavour that once ruled the airwaves in the late-eighties & early-nineties Country scene; He’s unapologetically old-fashioned & it works oh-so well.
Despite being a wonderful rekindling of classic Country flames, Randy Houser’s compositions on Magnolia have one major flaw: They’re qualities of a musical scene that has long since lost its draw with today’s listeners; No one’s interested in wholesome stories of easy-living & traditionally-masculine love stories anymore, far more concerned with party tunes, Dance Pop-centric rhythms & extreme electronic modulation, rendering much of the brilliant instrumentation on the album useless in a market that would rather pop champagne than find that special someone who makes their po’dunk town worth fighting for – Still, if you can find it in yourself to give it some time, Magnolia wil absolutely sweep you off your feet with thrilling Blues Rock jams like “Mamma Don’t Know” & “Whole Lotta Quit,” attributes that might very well score him a spot at this year’s ACM’s & CMTA’s if he’s lucky.